Archive for April, 2012

Scrap heap may be last stop for secret slice of Navy history

Monday, April 30th, 2012

– An interesting bit of U.S. Naval history.  It’s hard to imagine all the secret projects that are carried out that we’ll never hear anything about.   Here’s one which the curtains, finally, have been taken down on so we can see what was done.  

– I’m not much for military stuff but I admit I found this fascinating and spent a long time poring through the interior shots of this one-of-a-kind ship.

– Dennis

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A secret chapter in American naval research could soon reach an ignoble close when a rusty barge and its once-classified contents leaveSuisun Bay for the scrap heap.

Slipping through the sea like a black mirage on catamaran legs, the 164-foot Sea Shadow looks like something Darth Vader might fly. It is the world’s only ship built to be invisible, assembled secretly in Redwood City in 1985 by the U.S. Navy and contractor Lockheed Martin at an estimated cost of $50 million.

Sea Shadow’s purpose was to test radar-cloaking technology and other naval engineering innovations. Many of its breakthroughs can be seen in present-day Navy warships.

Even at nearly 30 years old, Sea Shadowremains the most radical ship afloat.

– More…

– Direct to the photos…


Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.

Monday, April 30th, 2012

– For my American friends … because politics have become such fun there.

– Dennis

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By Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, Published: April 28 in the Washington Post

Rep. Allen West, a Florida Republican, was recently captured on video asserting that there are “78 to 81” Democrats in Congress who are members of the Communist Party. Of course, it’s not unusual for some renegade lawmaker from either side of the aisle to say something outrageous. What made West’s comment — right out of the McCarthyite playbook of the 1950s — so striking was the almost complete lack of condemnation from Republican congressional leaders or other major party figures, including the remaining presidential candidates.

It’s not that the GOP leadership agrees with West; it is that such extreme remarks and views are now taken for granted.

We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.

“Both sides do it” or “There is plenty of blame to go around” are the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias, while political scientists prefer generality and neutrality when discussing partisan polarization. Many self-styled bipartisan groups, in their search for common ground, propose solutions that move both sides to the center, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach.

It is clear that the center of gravity in the Republican Party has shifted sharply to the right. Its once-legendary moderate and center-right legislators in the House and the Senate — think Bob Michel, Mickey Edwards, John Danforth, Chuck Hagel — are virtually extinct.

The post-McGovern Democratic Party, by contrast, while losing the bulk of its conservative Dixiecrat contingent in the decades after the civil rights revolution, has retained a more diverse base. Since the Clinton presidency, it has hewed to the center-left on issues from welfare reform to fiscal policy. While the Democrats may have moved from their 40-yard line to their 25, the Republicans have gone from their 40 to somewhere behind their goal post.

What happened? Of course, there were larger forces at work beyond the realignment of the South. They included the mobilization of social conservatives after the 1973Roe v. Wadedecision, the anti-tax movement launched in 1978 by California’s Proposition 13, the rise of conservative talk radio after a congressional pay raise in 1989, and the emergence of Fox News and right-wing blogs. But the real move to the bedrock right starts with two names:Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist.

From the day he entered Congress in 1979, Gingrich had a strategy to create a Republican majority in the House: convincing voters that the institution was so corrupt that anyone would be better than the incumbents, especially those in the Democratic majority. It took him 16 years, but by bringing ethics charges against Democratic leaders; provoking them into overreactions that enraged Republicans and united them to vote against Democratic initiatives; exploiting scandals to create even more public disgust with politicians; and then recruiting GOP candidates around the country to run against Washington, Democrats and Congress, Gingrich accomplished his goal.

Ironically, after becoming speaker, Gingrich wanted to enhance Congress’s reputation and was content to compromise with President Bill Clinton when it served his interests. But the forces Gingrich unleashed destroyed whatever comity existed across party lines, activated an extreme and virulently anti-Washington base — most recently represented by tea party activists — and helped drive moderate Republicans out of Congress. (Some of his progeny, elected in the early 1990s, moved to the Senate and polarized its culture in the same way.)

Norquist, meanwhile, founded Americans for Tax Reform in 1985 and rolled out his Taxpayer Protection Pledge the following year. The pledge, which binds its signers to never support a tax increase (that includes closing tax loopholes), had been signed as of last year by 238 of the 242 House Republicans and 41 of the 47 GOP senators, according to ATR. The Norquist tax pledge has led to other pledges, on issues such as climate change, that create additional litmus tests that box in moderates and make cross-party coalitions nearly impossible. For Republicans concerned about a primary challenge from the right, the failure to sign such pledges is simply too risky.

Today, thanks to the GOP, compromise has gone out the window in Washington. In the first two years of the Obama administration, nearly every presidential initiative met with vehement, rancorous and unanimous Republican opposition in the House and the Senate, followed by efforts to delegitimize the results and repeal the policies. The filibuster, once relegated to a handful of major national issues in a given Congress, became a routine weapon of obstruction, applied even to widely supported bills or presidential nominations. And Republicans in the Senate have abused the confirmation process to block any and every nominee to posts such as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, solely to keep laws that were legitimately enacted from being implemented.

– More (if you can stand it) …

– Research Thanks to Cara H.



Fukushima to Burn Highly-Radioactive Debris

Sunday, April 29th, 2012

Japan is Poisoning Other Countries By Burning Highly-Radioactive Debris

Fukushima will start burning radioactive debris containing up to 100,000 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram. As Mainchi notes:

The state will start building storage facilities for debris generated by the March 2011 tsunami as early as May at two locations in a coastal area of Naraha town, Fukushima Prefecture, Environment Ministry and town officials said Saturday.


About 25,000 tons of debris are expected to be brought into the facilities beginning in the summer, according to the officials.


If more than 100,000 becquerels of radioactive cesium are found per kilogram of debris, the debris will be transferred to a medium-term storage facility to be built by the state. But if burnable debris contains 100,000 becquerels of radioactive cesium or less, it may be disposed of at a temporary incinerator to be built within the prefecture, according to the officials.

Within the 20-km-radius no-go zone spanning across Naraha and five other municipalities along the coast, debris caused by the magnitude 9.0 quake and the subsequent tsunami has amounted to an estimated 474,000 tons, much of remaining where it is.

How much radiation is that?

It is a lot.

Nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen has said that much lower levels of cesium – 5,000-8,000 bq/kg (20 times lower than what will be allowed to be burned at Fukushima) – would be sent to a special facility in the United States and buried underground for thousands of year. See this and this.

It is comparable to the levels of radioactivity found within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. See this and this.

And even the Japanese – who have raised acceptable levels of radiation to absurd levels – would normally demand that material with this radioactivity be encased in cement and buried:

According to plans by the Ministry of Environment, if the radioactive cesium concentration is less than 8,000 Bq/kg, then it is possible to dispose of it by burying it. Rubble that has 8,000 ~ 100,000 Bq must be encased in cement in order to prevent contact with water before being dumped. For rubble that exceeds 100,000 Bq, it must be encased in concrete walls and stored temporarily. The disposal place must be approved of by the Prefectural Governor.

In addition, some allege that debris surpassing 100,000 bq/kg of cesium will be burned, after being mixed with less-radioactive materials.

And many of the incinerators are located smack dab in the middle of crowded cities, and are not equipped to contain radiation.

– More…


US government learning how to hack video game consoles

Sunday, April 29th, 2012

The US Department of Homeland Security is out to hack video game consoles, such as Xboxes, Wiis and PlayStations.

According to Foreign Policy, the US Navy has just awarded a $177,237 sole-source research contract to Obscure Technologies, a computer forensics company, to figure out how to hack the encryption that protects personal data on the consoles.

What the feds want from the deal, according tothe contract with the US Navy: “hardware and software tools that can be used for extracting data from video game systems” and “a collection of data (disk images; flash memory dumps; configuration settings) extracted from new video game systems and used game systems purchased on the secondary market.”

– More…


Next Great Depression? MIT study predicting ‘global economic collapse’ by 2030 still on track

Sunday, April 29th, 2012

– Frankly, I think we’ll be damned lucky to get that far.

– Dennis

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A renowned Australian research scientist says a study from researchers at MIT claiming the world could suffer from a “global economic collapse” and “precipitous population decline” if people continue to consume the world’s resources at the current pace is still on track, nearly 40 years after it was first produced.

The Smithsonian Magazine writes that Australian physicist Graham Turner says “the world is on track for disaster” and that current research from Turner coincides with a famous, and in some quarters, infamous, academic report from 1972 entitled, “The Limits to Growth.” Turner’s research is not affiliated with MIT or The Club for Rome.

Produced for a group called The Club of Rome, the study’s researchers created a computing model to forecast different scenarios based on the current models of population growth and global resource consumption. The study also took into account different levels of agricultural productivity, birth control and environmental protection efforts. Twelve million copies of the report were produced and distributed in 37 different languages.

Most of the computer scenarios found population and economic growth continuing at a steady rate until about 2030. But without “drastic measures for environmental protection,” the scenarios predict the likelihood of a population and economic crash.

However, the study said “unlimited economic growth” is still possible if world governments enact policies and invest in green technologies that help limit the expansion of our ecological footprint.

The Smithsonian notes that several experts strongly objected to “The Limit of Growth’s” findings, including the late Yale economist Henry Wallich, who for 12 years served as a governor of the Federal Research Board and was its chief international economics expert. At the time, Wallich said attempting to regulate economic growth would be equal to “consigning billions to permanent poverty.”

Turner says that perhaps the most startling find from the study is that the results of the computer scenarios were nearly identical to those predicted in similar computer scenarios used as the basis for “The Limits to Growth.”

“There is a very clear warning bell being rung here,” Turner said. “We are not on a sustainable trajectory.”

Correction: This post has been edited to reflect that MIT has not updated its research from the original 1972 study.

– to the original…


The man who sold his life on eBay

Sunday, April 29th, 2012

– I really love (some of the) people who push the envelope is various ways.   This guy is one of them.   You have to admire his courage and audacity.

– Dennis

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It’s a dream many of us have – to throw in the job, sell the house and set off into the great unknown with just a passport and a thirst for adventure.

Usually, reality gets in the way. But not for Ian Usher, the Perth man who made international headlines when, during a midlife crisis, he decided to auction his entire life – including his house, job, car and even friends – on eBay.

A heartbroken Usher made the drastic move after his wife left him, six years after they emigrated from England to Western Australia.

In August 2008 he farewelled his friends and left his Wellard home (which eventually sold for A$399,000 the traditional way after the winning eBay bidder withdrew at the last minute) bound for Dubai.

Guiding him was a list of 100 goals he wanted to complete in 100 weeks.

Four years and 93 goals later, 48-year-old Mr Usher is now living on his very own Caribbean island and has found love again.

Along the way he visited dozens of countries while ticking off the list of goals, which included running with the bulls in Spain, cage diving with sharks in South Africa, meeting Richard Branson, having a workplace romance, learning to fly a plane and skydiving nude.

Learning French, joining the “mile high” club, developing a six pack and scoring a bit-part in a Hollywood movie were also achieved during what he described as an “incredible” two years.

“I think a couple of stand-out ones were swimming with a mother humpback whale and her calf in Japan, and riding a motorbike on the Wall of Death. My week in Pamplona in Spain was fantastic, and terrifying too, running with the bulls there,” he said.

“[Other standouts were] flying a plane solo, seeing the red crabs at Christmas Island. I could go on, it was an incredible two years.”

Usher’s mission was also altruistic, and saw him raise A$10,000 for charity and establish an online support network for those who, like him, found themselves “blindsided” by life.

He wrote lengthy blogs during his travels and has since also self-published a book, A Life Sold ,which was also on his list of goals.

– More…


The Moral Necessity of a Godless Existence

Saturday, April 28th, 2012

– I’m not sure how I feel about this.   I’ve been going around and around about this question for years and the author here, Tauriq Moosa, certainly states one side of the question very clearly.

– Dennis

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In a previous post, I indicated what I consider the “dangerous” realisation that there is no top-down meaning; that our actions aren’t found to be important by anyone (or One) other than ourselves. This idea destroyed and continues to destroy many ideas I embraced (and that I encounter). Based on this, one must ask what follows.

One might become nihilistic, depressed and/or commit suicide; one might also choose to deliberately ignore all the evidence and conjure up bizarre claims about energy and so oninflating our solipsism to the point where we view our actionsas – from a top-down, metaphysical perspective – meaningful.  These are just two, quite extreme, ways people respond to what they realise is a meaningless (from a top-down perspective) existence.

Many of us grew up with the idea that “right” and “wrong” were synonyms for God’s likes and dislikes. Pork and alcohol, premarital sex, praying regularly, clothing in special places, strange rituals, respecting one’s elders: these were the types of ideas that fit the bracket of “morality” for me, when I was young and considered myself Muslim. Looking at that list now, one can see how utterly solipsistic it is. From dietary to fashion, the invocation of God had little to do with what I realise now actually morally matters: the wellbeing and reduction of unnecessary suffering of others. For my younger self – and for many others –we need not worry about the well-being of others because that is God’s domain. What’s the use of interfering, when life is dependent on how much love you’ve earned from God? If something bad happens, it is because you have upset God somehow: you haven’t prayed correctly, bathed correctly, dressed correctly, respected correctly, thought correctly. Of course, “correctly” was a synonym for whatever God wants. Morality therefore became merely about how much or little you thought God loved you, followed by what you planned to do about it.

This apathy is certainly not true for all religious believers. Many are examples of the best people, including, for example, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, especially during the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Here we have a man who played an active, powerful role in helping an entire nation, filled with complete strangers, many of whom were and are godless. He certainly did not believe things would “just work out”, if left up to God. Even the Archbishop then was not of the opinion that morality concerns random rules about our relationship to our god.

Dangers and superstitious relations

The point is that one of the main dangers of thinking there is a top-down, moral perspective, who cares about us – aside from believing a lie – is it relinquishes from us responsibility. Thus we can, too easily, dismiss truly difficult problems in the world by simply proclaiming god or someone equivalent will sort it out in the end (karma, reincarnation, Heaven, Judgement Day, etc.); or, similarly, that there is some kind of balance that we ourselves have upset and can, therefore, set right through arbitrary rituals or invocations. “But,” as Barbara Ehrenreich points out

mind does not automatically prevail over matter, and to ignore the role of difficult circumstances – or worse, attribute them to our own thoughts – is to slide toward the kind of depraved smugness Rhonda Byrne [author of The Secret. See previous link] expressed when confronted with the tsunami of 2006. Citing the law of attraction, she stated that disasters like tsunamis can happen only to people who are on the same frequency as the event.”

That is, they brought it on themselves. It was not the failure of poor foundations or structural engineering problems – that remained broken due to inefficiency, mismanagement, and corruption. No, instead, it was people thinking “negative” thoughts and sending these out into the universe. One can easily see similar kind of “reasoning” when Jerry Falwell proclaimed that 9/11 was (partially) caused by the gays and liberals in the US, for upsetting God.

Notice these are no different to superstitious behaviour. Black cats and broken mirrors are merely denial of our often horrible existence in quirky clothing: instead of attributing the car crash to pure chance, we try recall the last dark feline encounter. Instead of facing up to our failings as a marriage partner, we locate shattered reflective surfaces or astrological signs.

Prayers, rituals, blaming liberals and gays, shattered mirrors and black cats are allmethods we invoke to try have some control on a chaotic, top-down meaningless existence that results in deaths and suffering over which we have no control. The danger is twofold: (1) we don’t engage with reality, to actually sort problems out and, similarly, (2) we rebuff responsibility on to arbitrary, non-causal “tokens”, like broken mirrors. Things won’t get fixed, problems won’t really be solved, but wewill have a small moment of serenity when we stroke a cross or toss salt over our shoulder.

Hollow responsibility

Hollowing out responsibility primarily empties moral action. If we are not responsible, then there is no reason to act morally. For example, by saying floods are caused by negative thoughts or terrorist incidents are punishments for upsetting God, we don’t need to look at fixing engineering problems or the growing danger of radical Islam.

Thus by not recognising there is no central moral agent, who can make things right because he loves you from that cosmic top-down perspective, we create a fake, essentially superstitious solution. We won’t solve problems. We don’t make the world secure. This is almost no where better represented than the utterly useless act of prayer: it does more to comfort the believer, pacifying him into inaction, but filled with feelings of accomplishment, than provide any solution to the problem being prayed for.

Again, this is not how many would react, but I am pointing out the dangers I saw for myself and what I see for others. Thus, aside from not recognising the reality of a top-down meaningless existence, we create a lie that perpetuates apathy in a world constantly and desperately in need of action.

My reason for writing, my reason for constantly trying to assess the reality of things is to undo what inaction and apathy does and has done to us; to try understand and undermine what believing you have the answers to right and wrong, because of magic books, does to our social policy and law. I recognise no magical being is going to solve the problems of the world and thus I think I need to do what I can to help. Whether you think I’m still wasting my time by writing and educating (though evidence tells me otherwise), I at least can be persuaded through engaging with the real world and not arbitrary, Bronze-aged moral rules.

– To the original…


Should we care about the human future?

Friday, April 20th, 2012

– I generally like Curt Cobb’s writings.   Here’ he’s discussing possible human futures including the one I’ve advocated in The Plan.

– But, he says, it might not be worth doing because at some time in the future, they might change their minds and throw all our good works aside.

– In the end, he decides that our best option might be to seek to live in a sustainable fashion today because that leads to happier lives and that we give up “the inherently impossible task of seeking to assure human continuity indefinitely into the future“.

– Interesting but I think it ignores that many of us now already understand the inherent virtues of living sustainable.  

– But many of our kind also see the world as their playground within which to accumulate money and power and they have no notion of sustainability that extends past the end of their lives unless it is to leave a pile of money and priveledge (gathered at the expense of the rest of us) to their progeny.

– No, I think Cobb’s naive here.  Some of us ‘doing good’ now, even if it makes us feel personally good, isn’t going to assure future generations of a sustainable world.  

– And I don’t buy his argument that there’s little point in leaving future generations a sustainable world.  

– One doesn’t give gifts or do the right thing because of quid-pro-quo considerations.  Some things are inherently right in and of themselves and what others do or don’t do down the line will be their business (and their karma).   We can only do the best we are capable of now and leave to future generations the clearest understandings we can of human nature and its inherent limitations and then the ball’s in their court.

– On the other hand, if we do not act, the possibility of a sustainable world will never fall within their grasp and we, these generations living now, will have deprived future generations from having a sustainable world to save.

– Here’s his article.   I’ve marked in red the sections I find of particular interest.

– Dennis

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In virtually every institution in human society, we humans concern ourselves with the continuation of the species. We have children, we raise them in some sort of family, we educate them for the world of work and citizenship, and then we see them couple and start the cycle all over again. All the while we seek to defend ourselves from disease, violence, economic deprivation, in fact, anything that might cut short our lives or those of our children. It ought to be self-evident that human beings do care about the future. What I want to examine is whether they should and if so, how much.

For this I will need to take you through some simple thought experiments which will test just how much you might do for the sake of human continuity and just how far into the future you might project your own responsibility.

It is a truism that parents concern themselves with the well-being and happiness of their children and grandchildren (and great grandchildren if they live that long). So, a concern about the general state of human society will extend two or perhaps three generations into the future or roughly 50 to 75 years. After that, it’s hard for us to put a lot of emotion into making things right for people we will never know.

But let’s say you have an altruistic streak that transcends time. You actually believe that people you will never meet deserve your consideration now. You believe that you should leave them a society that makes a good life possible, however you conceive of that good life. How far into the future will this concern carry? 100 years? 1,000 years? 10,000 years? I sense your commitment fading the further out in time I go. After all, how can any of us possibly foresee what human life will be like in 10,000 years (assuming humans survive that long)? How can we even conceive of what a good life will look like then?

Now, let me throw a little cold water on your warm-blooded altruism. Let’s say that today we as a global society decided to do everything we need to do to create what is roughly speaking a sustainable society. This would include ending our reliance on fossil fuels, adopting organic farming techniques, letting go of consumerism as an organizing principle, harvesting renewable resources only at the rate they can be renewed, gradually but drastically reducing population over time until it is below the Earth’s carrying capacity for humans, and creating a cradle-to-cradle resource management system for all finite resources. Certainly, this list could be expanded. But the point is that the system we create could, in theory, be bequeathed to humans for as long as there is a planet Earth.

Now, what if at some point, say, 500 years into this grand experiment, a society arises that decides all these rules on what we can and cannot do should be repealed, especially the restriction on burning fossil fuels? So, today we make great sacrifices to move from a doomed society to one that is sustainable out of concern and respect for future generations. Then, some future generation blows it by undoing everything we’ve done. How’s that for slap in the face? Except, of course, you won’t be around to actually feel the slap. Still, this thought experiment forces us to confront a very ugly possibility and question how much we should sacrifice now for a potentially ungrateful and lethal generation in the future.

Now, let’s go even further into the future. Let’s say humans remain responsibly sustainable indefinitely. How long will that be? Well, the fossil record suggests that mammalian species such as humans have an average lifespan of 2 million years. So, if we date humans using the classification Homo sapiens, then we are a young species, perhaps 200,000 years old. If we date humans back to the beginning of the entire genus of hominids at least 4 million years ago, then humans are essentially in evolutionary overtime.

But no matter what time line you use, one thing remains true: The chances that we humans will defy the logic of the fossil record seem slim. Some 99 percent of all species that have ever existed on Earth have disappeared. We are very unlikely to evolve into some superior being that carries on the traditions and cultures of humans. We are much more likely to go extinct at some point no matter how sustainably we live as a species.

And finally, let’s assume that somehow future humans evolve and adapt so well that they are alive billions of years from now. At some point, our Sun will expand as part of its death throes and consume the Earth. No more life at all on Earth at that point. (I know some of you are saying that perhaps humans will populate the stars. I see no realistic prospect that humans could actually do this even if they could find Earth-like planets. First, the distances would likely be so great that even highly advance spaceships would still take so long to reach such planets that the chance of survival would be small. Second, the Earth-like planet would almost certainly have micro-organisms that would kill humans almost as soon as they landed. Instead of the Andromeda strain coming to us, we would go to it.)

As I’ve lengthened the time line, no doubt you’ve found yourself wondering why any of us today should be concerned about the sustainability of human society in a future that is so vast that it is several orders of magnitude longer than human civilization has so far existed. Good question. The continuity of human beings simply cannot be guaranteed indefinitely into the future regardless of what our genes, our minds, or several hundred Star Trek episodes may tell us. We are largely powerless in that regard.

Now, I am not minimizing the impulse to make the world a sustainable place for our progeny. I recognize that as a very strong drive. And, it is one that is featured in countless environmentally-oriented appeals. But I am looking for bedrock here. Is there a way of thinking about sustainability that doesn’t involve the inherently impossible task of seeking to assure human continuity indefinitely into the future? I think I have an answer.

Sustainable practices must be in and of themselves a path to a good life. If that’s the case, then they are worth implementing simply because they lead to happier and more fulfilling lives. We can take a cue from the simplicity movement which embraced simple living as more fulfilling. Let me illustrate. I ride my bicycle for most of my errands and for exercise as well. Even if there were no climate change problem, even if there were no peak oil problem, even if there were no sustainability crisis, riding my bicycle would still enhance the quality of my life. I’m more fit. I’m more in touch with my physical surroundings. Typically, I’m still moving when traffic is halted. I can get closer to my destination. I pay no parking fees. I find myself now in a kind of universal brotherhood with every other cyclist on the road (a very underrated plus). I could go on. But I think it would be possible to say something similar about any practice that is truly sustainable.

I’m not suggesting that we give up on the rhetoric of creating a sustainable future for our children. But I am suggesting adding to that pitch that almost everything we call sustainable would make us happier even absent the problems we are trying to solve. That means people would ultimately have no regrets about adopting sustainable habits because, in general, they give us a fuller, more compelling life.

– To the original…



America’s problems in a nutshell

Friday, April 20th, 2012

– A friend of my picked up this perceptive comment on the NYT Blogsphere.   I thought it tied a lot of stuff up quite succinctly.

– Dennis

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“It strikes me that America has two fundamental, inter-related problems that paralyze it and prevent it from adapting and changing:

One is its constitution and structure of governance. Senate filabustering rules, a politicised judiciary and supreme court, gerrymandered congressional districts, a politicised electoral process, the combination of chief executive and head of state in the same person, an incessant election cycle and so many other flaws means that American government just doesn’t work very well. No wonder it’s system of democracy isn’t replicated by other democracies around the world. It’s not fit-for-purpose.

The other source of paralyisis is ideology. The deification of the founders and the constitution prevents adaptation. The insularity of American exceptionalism prevents global benchmarking and best-practice. The rabidity of individualism prevents social solutions that would benefit the nation as a whole. Beyond the chanting of pledges and the waving of flags, large parts of America have decended into a religious-based extremism that turns its back on truth itself.

The Soviet Union collapsed because its ideology could not adapt to human and economic reality. China succeeds because, when faced with the failure of its ideology it abandoned it and instead embraced pragmatism and did what worked.

America, tied down with unworkable governance and inflexible ideology, seems to be following the Soviet model.”

– Research thanks to Rolf A.


American Health Insurance … revisited

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

– We’ve been here before, readers.   But I feel like I need to revisit the subject again for the edification and amazement of my U.S. readers.

– I just bought New Zealand Health Insurance to cover myself when I’m in the USA for 78 days from July 8th to September 23rd this year.

– Cost in New Zealand dollars was $386.55 which is currently about $302.00 in U.S. dollars.

– And this policy is much more than just simple healthcare coverage.   It’s also travel insurance for lost baggage, the consequences of cancelled flights and other things.  

– If I was to get seriously sick in the USA (a potentially very expensive thing to do), the New Zealand insurance folks will fly me home to New Zealand on their dime and I’ll be treated here.

– When I was still in the U.S., married and running a business, we paid each about $425.00 a month for our medical coverage.   There was a $2500 deductible on the policy so we had to spend that amount each up front before we ever got a dime back from the insurance company for medical expenses.   And, even then, when they did begin to pay, it was only 80% of our costs.

– So, in the U.S., I had to play $20.82 per day (see Note 1) to get 80% coverage and with this New Zealand policy, which is covering me on the other side of the planet, I’m paying $3.87 per day (see Note 2) for 100% coverage.   Interesting, eh?

– Some months ago, I had a small heart attack here in New Zealand.   You can read about it here:    

– The long and the short of it is I went to an emergency clinic, I had a ride in an ambulance, I spent two nights in the hospital, I had an angioplasty and I had a stent inserted into one of my coronary arteries.   My total cost was less than $200 dollars ($164.00 U.S.).

– Many in the U.S. have a hard time believing that the country has been so thoroughly captured by corporations.   And many still believe the country is a fully functional representative democracy.  But both assumptions are seriously flawed.  

– The outrageously high cost of medical care in the U.S. is because enormous profits are being taken from the system by the medical corporations.  

– And our representative democracy has been deeply corrupted by big money.  Money that pays to keep the country’s laws arranged so that the looting can continue.

– Don’t believe it?   Then ask yourself how the richest country in the world is also the only major western democracy in which this sort of stuff goes on?

– Dennis


Note 1 – that’s $425/month * 12 = $5100.00/year and if I divide that by 365, it is $13.97/day.  But then in order to get any thing paid to me, I also have to spend the $2500 deductible which is another $6.85/day so the total I have to spend per day in the U.S. to get to the 80% coverage point is $13.97 + $6.85 = $20.82/day.

Note 2 – I’m paying $302.00 (in U.S. dollars) for 78 days so I’m paying $3.87/day to get to the 100% coverage point.